Those of you who know me outside this blog may know that I’ve had a long-standing battle with “stuff.” I’m not a hoarder, or at least not the bad kind that collects garbage and jars of pee pee. No, I’m just a guy who likes collecting things (to the extreme at times). My wife once dubbed me “The Collector of Collections,” which unsurprisingly is the title of a book I’m also working on. But I digress.
Because of my collecting tendencies, I’ve read lots of books on organizing and decluttering. One repeating piece of advice you see in those books is that everything that doesn’t have a place is clutter. “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” As I continue to work on my novel, I realize this advice applies to books as well.
The opening few chapters of my current novel are like a roller coaster, and not in a good way. Chapter one ends when our protagonist, who has been on the run, discovers he has been located. The chapter literally ends with him saying, “I’ve got to go.” But in chapter two, he doesn’t go anywhere. Instead he hangs around in the back room of his local bar, waiting for it to get dark. Chapter three begins with him making a break to his boat, but when he arrives there, Monica (the woman who has been hired to track him down) is there waiting for him. In chapter four the two of them exchange back stories. In chapter five, they leave on the boat and some crazy things happen.
The critique I got back from my professor said (and I’m paraphrasing here) “lose chapter two and move chapter four.”
When summarized in the way I did above, it’s not hard to see where the pacing problems are. In an action thriller you can’t have the protagonist announce he’s about to go do something exciting and then insert a chapter where nothing exciting happens.
I had a lot of funny content in chapter two. (I’m a funny guy.) When I went back and really looked at it, I’d say 10% of the material was necessary to the story and 90% was jokey backstory stuff. I dumped the 90% (I know, right?) and split the remaining 10% up between chapters one and three. Then I renamed “chapter three” to “chapter two.”
I haven’t dealt with chapter four yet. Eventually I’ll move those conversations somewhere else in the book, and probably cut them down. I don’t want to fall into the trap of worrying about the first half of the race before reaching the goal line, so I’m going to keep pushing forward and come back to deal with that later.
Everything has its place, and sometimes that place is in the recycle bin.